Being Human

The second rule of content strategy is: “Don’t talk about content strategy.” The minute you start talking about the content of your web presence as a ploy to draw customers in, you’re losing the battle. The best way to approach content strategy is to consider the conversations you’d love to have with your ideal customer. What does your customer need? What might he like to know more about? What information is going to assure her you’re an expert in your business? What are you incredibly passionate about?

Your online presence should be a place for you to connect with customers who care about the same things you do in order to explore and enjoy your mutual interest together.

We All Want to Save the World

Everyone has a hidden hero complex. We all want to save the world, and what’s more, we all want everyone to know that we’re the one who saved it. If you can put a tool or information into the hands of your customer that makes her feel like Wonder Woman, she’s going to love you for it. If you give your customer an emotional high-five and let him know you see him saving the world, he’s going to spread the word that you’re alright.

Empower your customers by giving them knowledge.

  • Share links to free resources that you think your customers, specifically, would have a use for. For example, if you’re a craft supplies store, find and share the best free craft tutorials or blogs with good tips on various crafts.
  • Write posts to give your customers insight into the finer points of your business. A law firm, for example, might write about reducing your fine for a speeding ticket with minimal hassle.
  • LinkedIn. If you’re in a B2B industry, find discussions that address questions about the type of product or service you sell and answer people’s questions.

Cheer your customers by giving them a forum to share success stories.

  • Facebook: Post a question inviting people to share their favorite healthy recipe, creative uses of your product, etc. Give them a specific chance to talk about something they’ve done well, and respond to them with praise whenever possible.
  • Twitter: Promote use of a specific hashtag to foster conversations, then use a software like or Storify to showcase those conversations on your blog. (Great example: Greatist does this very well with their #imagreatist threads.)
  • Blog: Acknowledge one or two of the unanswered questions relevant to a post and invite readers to share their perspective in the comments and reply to what they say.

The Show Must Go On

I’m not about to tell you to make lolcatz a regular part of your blog content, but let’s be honest: we all waste a lot of time goofing around on the internet. We all have sites we go to for no better reason than the fact that they amuse us. If you’re entertaining a client, he won’t mind hanging out on your site, and if he’s hanging out on your site, he just might end up buying what you’re selling. The key is to make that entertaining component relevant to the customer base you want to attract so that you’re not wasting your social media budget looking for cheap laughs that appeal to everyone and your mom.

  • Make ‘em laugh: Are you appealing to science teachers? Go ahead and point out Chemistry Cat. Connecting with parents of toddlers? Give parents a place to share their embarrassing parenting moments.
  • Awe & Inspire: Do you sell photography services? Give out gorgeous wallpapers for a mobile phone or tablet. Are your clients technophiles? Point out the most wildly futuristic gadgets and studies.
  • Invoke Pathos: Looking for more donors for a dog shelter? Have someone share a few poignant thoughts from the perspective of your newest rescues. Running a local, organic foods restaurant? Point out pieces you agree with from blogs like Civil Eats.

Go Ahead, Feed the Trolls

Almost anyone who’s young enough to have been taught some computer skills in elementary school knows that the first rule of the internet is: “Don’t feed the trolls.” In other words, if someone tells you you’re wrong, don’t engage. Just let them have their say and let it go. As a private person, that is my policy almost all of the time…except when it’s not.

As a business, I’m not going to recommend that you encourage your customers to play the dozens with one another until someone breaks and throws a right cross, metaphorically speaking, but we all like to be right and most of us will defend our position. If people are coming to your site to engage in debate, they’re on your site, they’re feeling passionate, and they’re possibly even getting other potential customers involved in the conversation.

  • Keep it relevant. If you’re a wellness non-profit and people are arguing about tabloid headlines, your site could probably do more to foster a community for constructive debate centered around the world behind the services you offer.
  • Add evidence-based fuel to the fire. Name-calling gets folks riled up, sure, but what moves a conversation forward in a productive manner is rational evidence supporting one side of the debate or the other, or even both. Bring the most accurate and interesting information to the discussion and ask your customers to react.
  • Interact with customers who bring their thoughts to the table. I know I said you could feed the trolls. I lied. Trolls are looking to make people angry without actually engaging in a useful debate. Lavish your comments and reactions on customers who add something interesting and productive to the conversation and leave the trolls to make noise on the sidelines. Don’t be afraid to set a terms of use that makes it clear that you reserve the right to delete offensive material from your forums.

Be Human

My in-laws are clinical counselors, and my father-in-law has an anecdote that I love. When he asked one of his clients why she was there, she said, “I need practice being a person.” I love that comment because it strikes at the heart of what we all struggle with from day to day, on one level or another. Being people. For businesses, this is even more of a challenge. It’s easy to think of a business as an unwieldy THING instead of an organization made of and by and for PEOPLE.

If you’ve been waiting since the first sentence to find out what the first rule of content strategy is, I congratulate you on your attentiveness and persistence. Here’s your reward: “Be human.” Remember that you’re a person with a passion for what you do trying to reach other people who share your passion in some way. As long as you remember you’re talking to people and follow your passion, you’ll have no trouble producing engaging content.